By Laurel Thompson

Since 2012, middle and high school students in the Poudre and Thompson School Districts have been awarding grants to local nonprofits through Give Next, a youth philanthropy leadership program managed by the Bohemian Foundation in partnership with the Community Foundation of Northern Colorado and the Give Next Advisory Committee.

Funded by local businesses, foundations and donors, the program allocates $5,000 to each participating school so students can identify needs in their community and give grants to nonprofits that fit their mission statement every year.

Students faced unique challenges during the 2019-2020 school year when schools shifted to online learning to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, but the program’s mission became more important than ever as the effects of the pandemic were felt throughout the community.

With countless nonprofits in need of additional funding, students buckled down and began creating their own grantmaking programs to determine how and where the funds would best be used. The result: 21 middle and high schools were able to distribute over $115,000 to 44 Larimer County nonprofits through the Give Next youth philanthropy program this year.

Fort Collins HIgh School (FCHS), an original Give Next participant, has been instrumental in paving the way for students to get involved and give back to the community since the very beginning. Every year, FCHS Key Club members create a mission statement to align their efforts with a specific goal—this year it was to support families experiencing poverty and homelessness in Northern Colorado.

“Throughout my three years volunteering with Give Next, I’ve learned a lot more about the nonprofits in Fort Collins and have gotten to experience the value of giving back to people in need,” says Eugene Worford, FCHS sophomore and elected Key Club treasurer.

FCHS students received grant applications from 37 organizations, which they carefully deliberated until narrowing it down to 12 that would move on to the next step in the selection process: face-to-face interviews.

Though Key Club members were able to interview some of the applicants in person, the shelter in place order meant that students had to conclude their interviews virtually before drafting acceptance and rejection letters.

Ultimately, FCHS students decided to award eight nonprofits in the Fort Collins area: Family Housing Network of Fort Collins, FoCo Café, Food Bank for Larimer County, Fort Collins Habitat for Humanity, Respite Care, Inc., The Family Center/La Familia, The Nappie Project and the Fort Collins Eyeopeners Kiwanis’ Colorado Feeding Kids Food Packing Event, which will take place in September.

Kaylee Scott, FCHS sophomore and elected Key Club webmaster, says the process of elimination was tough due to the many worthy organizations that applied for Give Next grants: “We had a ton of options, but we also had a lot of the same ideas about what we wanted to accomplish, so that made it easier to choose which organizations we wanted to support. I think we made the right decision and picked the nonprofits that would benefit the most from our donations.”

In addition to the $5,000 in grant funding provided by their corporate sponsor, Woodward Charitable Trust, and an additional $1,000 for staff advisors to donate to a nonprofit of their choosing, FCHS students took it upon themselves to hold a silent auction and allocate 100 percent of the proceeds to their Give Next grant recipients.

This caught the attention of Dennis and Noreen Houska of Houska Automotive, who decided to match the fundraising dollars from the auction, which equaled a combined amount of $2,000. All of these funding avenues included, FCHS students and advisors raised a total of $8,000 to split evenly among the eight nonprofits they chose to support this year.

“Giving back to the community in such a significant way has been a really unifying experience for students who want to get involved,” says Krista Taylor, recently retired FCHS special education teacher, Give Next advisor and member of The Eyeopeners Kiwanis Club, which sponsors the FCHS Key Club. “It has been amazing to watch these students discover a passion for philanthropy and doing good in the world, which is proving more important each and every day.”

To learn more about Give Next and other philanthropic initiatives happening in Northern Colorado, head to the Bohemian Foundation website: